9 ways to improve the Commission’s ECI revision proposal To create an ECI that works!
On September 13, 2017, the European Commission published its proposal for the revision of the regulation on the European Citizens’ Initiative (find it here). Over the course of the next months, both the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union will finalize their own positions on the proposal and will enter into negotiations with one another until an agreement on the new regulation is reached and approved by both legislative bodies. The European Parliament rapporteur, György Schöpflin, has recently published his draft report on the Commission’s proposal (find it here), and also the European Committee of the Regions and the European Economic and Social Committee have already developed their opinions (find them here and here respectively).
We believe that the Commission’s proposal – if turned into law – would solve several relevant technical, administrative, logistical and communication problems, which currently limit the user-friendliness of the instrument. However, the proposal crucially fails to address the more fundamental and politically salient issues which threaten the future of the instrument. Thus, we call upon the co-legislators to address in particular these issues in their negotiations on the future regulation.
Specifically, we call for the Commission’s proposal to be improved on the following points:
- The European Parliament should develop its opinion and vote in plenary on every single successful ECI before the Commission takes in a position.
Receiving its mandate directly from European citizens, the European Parliament’s involvement in the follow-up to successful ECIs is crucial. This is further supported by experiences with national citizens’ initiatives in Latvia and Finland. In order to give the Commission a strong sense of direction on how to follow up on a particular successful ECI, the relevant committee of the European Parliament should develop a report on the content of the ECI, which is to be debated and voted upon in plenary.
- Involve National Parliaments in the follow-up to successful ECIs.
A central objective of the ECI is to foster transnational debate on European issues. Many ECIs touch upon policy areas in which the competences between the EU and the Member States are shared. In order to exploit the full potential of the ECI and to give visibility to the important role that Member States play in EU decision-making, National Parliaments should be invited to send a delegation to the public hearing in response to a successful ECI and to issue an opinion on the desired follow-up actions.
- Organise a second public hearing on the Commission’s reply to a successful ECI.
While the Commission’s decision on the legal admissibility of an ECI at the registration stage is subject to judicial review by the General Court of the EU, the same does not apply for the decision on the follow-up to a successful ECI. In order to ensure that the Commission can be held accountable for its decisions and to enable the continuation of dialogue with the ECI organisers, there should be an additional public hearing in the European Parliament within 3 months after the Commission has replied to a successful ECI. The main discussion topic should be the Commission’s decisions and announced follow-up actions in response to a successful ECI.
- Organise a Citizens’ Initiative Review in response to each successful ECI.
A successful ECI represents the voice of a significant minority of EU citizens, but is not necessarily representative of the EU population as a whole. In order to inform the EU policy-makers about the informed opinions of a representative sample of EU citizens and to stimulate an informed and balanced transnational debate, each successful ECI should be subjected to an independently organised Citizens’ Initiative Review: a randomly selected and demographically balanced group of EU citizens coming together to fairly evaluate the content of a successful ECI on the basis of expert input.
- Clarify the purpose and ensure the independent organisation of the public hearing following a successful ECI.
The purpose of the public hearing in the European Parliament in response to a successful ECI – and before the Commission has taken in a position – should be clear in order to prevent conflicting expectations and frustration on the part of both ECI organisers and EU officials. The primary purpose of the hearing should be to give successful ECI organisers an official platform to present their ECI publicly and to enter into dialogue with relevant politicians. The organisation of the public hearing should be in the hands of the European Parliament only. The possible involvement of additional stakeholders in the hearing should be considered on a case by case basis and in mutual agreement with the organisers.
- Define the scope of the ECI in the broadest possible manner.
The European Citizens’ Initiative is designed around the Commission’s competences, which includes the right to propose treaty amendments. Reflecting the ruling of the General Court of the EU in Efler v Commission, and with the aim of exploiting the full potential of the ECI as a tool to foster transnational debate, the new regulation needs to define the scope of the subject matter of ECIs in the broadest possible manner in accordance with the Commission’s competences.
- Allow ECI organisers to collect and keep data from signatories on a non-mandatory basis.
In order to make a lasting impact with your ECI and to build a transnational movement around a particular cause, it is crucially important to be able to stay in touch with your supporters if they want you to. While data collected on a mandatory basis – as part of the statement of support – should be destroyed at a certain point after the ECI collection period is over, data collected on a non-mandatory basis should remain at the disposal of ECI organisers for future campaigning purposes.
- Extend the collection period from 12 to 18 months.
Considering the low rate of ECIs that have managed to reach the required 1 million signatures within 1 year, it is desirable to give ECI organisers an extra 6 months in order to reach the threshold. This will make the instrument more accessible to a wider group of citizens and civil society organisations.
- Continue to review the regulation every 3 years.
The new regulation is unlikely to resolve all problems with the ECI at once, and is in fact likely to result in new, unanticipated problems. Due to the high importance of the instrument for the functioning of EU democracy, and given the direct impact of the regulation on individual European citizens, it is of crucial importance that the instrument will continue to be reviewed every 3 years.
Credit image: Arnaud DEVILLERS / © European Union 2018 – Source : EP